Why Should You Take Your HIV Medicine as Prescribed?
If taken as prescribed, HIV medicine can reduce the amount of HIV in your blood (also called your viral load) to a very low level. This is called viral suppression.
If your viral load is so low that a standard lab can’t detect it, this is called having an undetectable viral load. People with HIV who take HIV medicine as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load can stay healthy and have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partners.
HIV treatment involves taking highly effective medicines called antiretroviral therapy (ART) that work to control the virus. ART is recommended for everyone with HIV, and people with HIV should start ART as soon as possible after diagnosis, even on that same day.
People on ART take a combination of HIV medicines called an HIV treatment regimen. A person’s initial treatment regimen generally includes three HIV medicines from at least two different drug classes that must be taken every day. Many people with HIV take two or more different HIV medicines combined in one pill. There are many options of these combination medicines available. Long-acting injections of HIV medicine, given every two months, are also available if your health care provider determines that you meet certain requirements.
This page is about taking your HIV medicine in pill form every day, exactly as prescribed.
What Should You Do If You Skip a Dose?
Taking your HIV medicine daily is important because skipping doses makes it easier for HIV to change form, causing your medication to stop working. This is called drug resistance. HIV can become resistant to your medication and to similar medications that you have not yet taken. This limits your options for successful HIV treatment. Drug-resistant strains of HIV can be transmitted to others, too.
Taking your HIV medicine every day, exactly the way your health care provider tells you to, will help keep your viral load low and your CD4 cell count (a count of white blood cells that fight infection) high. If you skip doses, even now and then, you give HIV the chance to multiply rapidly. This could weaken your immune system, and you could become sick.
Talk to your health care provider if you miss a dose. In most cases, if you realize you missed a dose, take the medicines as soon as you can, then take the next dose at your usual scheduled time (unless your pharmacist or health care provider has told you something different).
If you find you miss a lot of doses, talk to your health care provider or pharmacist about ways to help you remember to take your medicines as prescribed. You and your health care provider may even decide to change your treatment regimen to fit your health care needs and life situation, which may change over time.
Do You Have to Take Your HIV Medicine If Your Viral Load Is Undetectable?
Yes. ART is not a cure and the virus remains in your body, even if your viral load is undetectable. So you need to keep taking your HIV medicine as prescribed. If you stop taking your HIV medicine, your viral load will quickly go back up.
If you have stopped taking your HIV medicine, talk to your health care provider as soon as possible. Your provider can help you get back on track and discuss the best strategies to prevent transmitting HIV to your sexual partners until your viral load is confirmed to be undetectable again.